Monthly Archives: June 2018

American Hidalgos

From the Wikipedia article on Hidalgos (nobility):

Unlike southern Spain, in the north the number of nobles was high and their differences with the common people were few, having been in itself reformed their society from the beginning for historical and demographic reasons as authentic militias for the support of the Royals. In Asturias, the hidalgos came to be almost 80% of the population, and in the case of Cantabria this figure was even higher, reaching 83% in the sixteenth century and exceeding 90% around 1740.[11][12] In the Señorío de Vizcaya and in Guipuzcoa there was also the so-called universal right of hidalguía, by virtue of which all Vizcaya and all Gipuzkoans were born hidalgos.

In the 16th century, the local charters provided the natives of the Basque Country with automatic status as hidalgos, giving them access to military and administrative careers. The reasons for this was that, unlike other regions of Spain, they were considered to have no Moorish or Jewish origins.[13] and because since the RomansVisigoths nor the Arabs were never able to conquer them nor the Cantabrians, they preserved their freedom, sovereignty and pre-Roman culture, beliefs and language longer than the rest of the Iberian peninsula.[14] Unlike other hidalgos who refused manual work as contrary to their honour (as seen in Lazarillo de Tormes), Basque universal gentry extended to the lowliest native worker.

It is easy to look at the American and his inclination toward rugged individualism, combined with the dedication and mystic zeal towards Liberty as being not unlike the Basque peasant who, in his poverty in the 1500s, still regarded himself as a nobleman, literally, in Spanish, a “Son of Someone (Wiktionary).”

In the particular American condition, perhaps we can point to the origins of some of this to the desire for the American pilgrims to obtain religious liberties. The head of the Anglican Church was the monarch of England, and when they were able to break away they were inclined to a sort of congregationalism, and thus the clerical headship passed to the most respected man in the religious body who had the right to preach to the people, and, in a very real sense, possessed to them a greater understanding of the Bible and of Christian life than the King of England.

Couple this also with the concept of stewardship of the land. Throughout Europe, men were peasants and serfs, rarely owning their own land and often very much attached to it, paying to a nobleman or a rentier of some kind. To own one’s own land, and to be part of a congregation that included a man who, like the King of England, wielded a massive authority over the interpretation of the Bible was a very heady thing…

Of course, we would have to say that these people had never quite fully drifted away from reality and thought of themselves as literal 1:1 equivalents of Dukes & Barons, Bishops & Primates, but they would have probably thought of themselves as ennobled in the sense that they had broken away from corrupt and false systems of stewardship & worship. Their nobility was not one that was outdated, bloated, and absurd, in the sense of their European contemporary counterparts, but it was pure, humble, and legitimizing, and while their ennoblement did not entitle them to literal rulership and presiding over others, it entitled them to a great equality with other free men in their communities and perhaps even their slaves, servants, and the Native American tribesmen who were scattered across the land.

This concept survives long after measures for equalizing Americans were put into affect — indeed, you could even see this sentiment in Sen. Huey Long, whose slogan was “Every Man a King,” and who is consistently hailed as one of the greatest egalitarians in American history. While the link seems tenuous as it is just a single word referencing a noble institution… surely, the use of the slogan for a prolonged period was powerful and a direct appeal to the ways that Americans styled themselves on some level.

It would not be ridiculous, in the least, to say that the American Protestant was inclined to think of himself as a Noble, and who, because of his great liberty, felt himself privileged above anyone who was not meaningfully free.

Just as how someone in the Basque country felt that they could all be Hidalgos by virtue of being unconquered and was inclined to think of themselves in a sort of grandiose exceptionalism that extended down to the men who struggled to make ends meet int heir own communites…

And if America is good at anything, its exceptionalism.


Trends Don’t Indicate Superior Content

The foreword to J. H. Elliott’s famous book on Spanish history, Imperial Spain, has an absolutely fabulous observation:

“I am naturally delighted that, in spite of this, Imperial Spain is still considered worthy of being reprinted. If written today it would obviously be a very different, although not necessarily a better, book.”

This comes right after Elliott speaks extensively on the current trends in historiography. He pointed out that these largely originated with the rather Marxist Annales school which tended to focus on what was frequently dubbed as mentalités. 

The idea was that we could know more about history by talking about the social, cultural, and mental histories of people rather than political and historic events that may have only had a short term impact. From the Wikipedia, you can also see a fabulous summary on the “precepts” of the Annales school of thought:

“[Annales historians] relegated the sensational to the sidelines and was reluctant to give a simple accounting of events, but strived on the contrary to pose and solve problems and, neglecting surface disturbances, to observe the long and medium-term evolution of economy, society and civilisation.” (Wikipedia)

No doubt, this school of thought has had a very lasting influence on how the West likes to engage history to this day. Indeed, we have now created entire departments focused on telling the histories and trends of specific identities — gender studies, LGBTQ studies, women’s studies, Asian studies, etc. — and every historian is always striving to deconstruct the roles of a place. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear some historian muse about “late 19th century Turkish mental asylums as intersectional places” or how early 20th century North Africa experienced a process of racialization under French colonization.

You could also view the trend in doing entire historical overviews of a single product as not dissimilar. Histories about tobacco or salt as similar means of telling grandiose social histories through the lens of some history of trade.

Elliott’s position of different eras writing different books (and none of them being necessarily better) is very astute.

No matter what decision we make, there are shortcomings to it. Just as such, the perspectives that we choose to take on history merely reveal our own biases and shortcomings in different ways while perhaps doing a much better job than previous generations at telling an overlooked part of the story.

These aspects play to certain strengths and weaknesses…

Is it really better? Some people would have you believe so but perhaps the more holistic the attitude, the better.

We all have our own biases and our own favorites, but can we really say that the people who have focused on economic history have made a poor choice? Of course not. All knowledge and all fields of study, that slowly fills in the details of things that were not properly categorized & sorted and thereby left out of our perceptions of history, do a service in telling the story of history.

Ultimately, what is dangerous about current trends is that they are, by nature, highly politicized. Elliott himself even implying that the Annales school was too Marxissant. After all, those who tell history as if it is the evolution of man are literally describing the world through dialectical materialism.

While those who work on these topics help us cover more and show some interesting diversions for us… we must never believe that their method is categorically superior.

A Salute Returned

The big talking point of the day, for both conservatives that are skeptical of the peace process and the Left, is the returned salute from Pres. Trump. Some people are already hard at work spinning it to make it appear as if Pres. Trump initiated the salute and, indeed, when the only image accompanying it is Pres. Trump looking at an N. K. officer while rendering the salute, the deception is complete.

Newly released video footage from North Korean state media shows President Donald Trump returning a salute to a North Korean military general during this week’s summit in Singapore, an extraordinary display of respect from a US president to a top officer of a hostile regime. (CNN)

Note that the released footage from North Korean state media itself shows that President Trump was returning the salute. This is actually a rather important detail because, undoubtedly, one of the ideas cooked up is that the real damage of the salute is that it can be manipulated into something that it is not, e.g., Pres. Trump rendering a salute first and showing a sort of submission as opposed to receiving a submissive gesture from a North Korean officer and simply answering it.

Remember that all North Korean males and a significant amount of N. Korean females all have to serve in the military and would be totally familiar with decorum. It would be impossible for civilians to confuse the meaning of this.

CNN fortunately continued to clarify a few other things:

n the military, returning a salute from a military officer of a friendly foreign nation is common practice for US military officers and considered a display of military professionalism. There is no rule that a US president is obliged to return a salute, which is considered a sign of mutual respect.

This caveat of “friendly” is rather interesting to me as I had been taught that rendering a salute to officers, friend or foe, was customary at any kind of meeting. However, it now appears that Army regulations say that it is necessary to officers of friendly nations, but the same regulation notes that saluting is mandatory on ceremonial occasions (Army Study Guide). Presumably, this sort of meeting would qualify as a very officious and ceremonial affair, and this is a distinction quite different from simply coming across a N. Korean officer on the street (lol) and rendering him a salute without any other context.

It should be also noted that there are occasions where one is expected to explicitly salute enemy soldiers:

Prisoners of war, with the exception of officers, must salute and show to all officers of the Detaining Power the external marks of respect provided for by the regulations applying in their own forces.

Officer prisoners of war are bound to salute only officers of a higher rank of the Detaining Power; they must, however, salute the camp commander regardless of his rank. (Article 39, Geneva Conventions, hosted at UMN.)

Yet… There are people who are acting as if it is highly inappropriate to return the salute of a foreign Officer during discussions pertaining to peace negotiations?

Indeed, imagine having a meeting to arrange a treaty and then decidedly not rendering respect or entertaining mutual honor & decorum.

Of course, I will concede this to the Left who are complaining about this: if Pres. Obama had done the same (while doing what Pres. Trump was doing now), it would have been held over his head for the whole of his Presidency and to this very day. That is utterly undeniable. However, I am not sure why the low standards of your political opponents would justify low standards for oneself.

We should also consider that we are experiencing something already a bit unexpected: Pres. Trump is viewed as a potential warmonger, and is from a party that is stereotyped as warmongers, yet he is pursuing peace, and, while doing so, rendering all sorts of honors and treating everyone with dignity and respect.

The reason for the outrage is not actually a real objection to the things being done but comes from deep seated hatred for the President as a person and potentially conservatism in general.

And, perhaps an even more interesting talking point, and one that has a wide variety of applications, the willingness to accept that Pres. Trump is doing this for conservatives is also coming from a sort of base love for their ‘own guy,’ so to speak.

Ultimately, Pres. Trump did the right thing for the circumstances. Whether or not the negotiations will bear real fruit and CVID will actually occur is a completely different story, and people’s skepticism towards this is entirely justified. However, to be angry about participating in the basic rendering of respect between persons in a formal setting would be no different than demanding that nobody ever shakes hands at negotiations between parties with bad blood.